Morocco: Getting Around (Transportation)

Transportation is a big deal to the traveler who is navigating across time and space, and I love analyzing a country’s modes of transport when I go abroad. Here, a look at getting around Morocco:

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  • Airline-Royal Air Maroc:

Morocco’s national airline is Royal Air Maroc.  I booked our aller-retour tickets to Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport (CMN) apprehensively, as from the reviews I’d read the airline seemed deeply awful.

-Air Maroc is efficient. Even though our departing flight was delayed, we actually ended up arriving way earlier in Casablanca than expected! The plane taxied down the runway so quickly, the extreme speediness of it all worried me slightly. Especially as the flight attendant rushed through the safety demonstration and talked at a pace nearly unintelligible over the loud speaker in the most rapid English, French and Arabic imaginable.

– Customer service: sucks. That is, it is non-existent. There are no fancy Qatar Airlines-reminiscent uniforms: attendants-which included males-wore plain navy blue uniforms. There were no friendly smiles or attitudes: attendants did not go around helping people with their bags, checking that seats were in the upright position or even seatbelts fastened. Drinks and meals were practically chucked at passengers. Basically, you barely saw the attendants during the flight.

-Food: Not awful. My chicken dish the first flight was good but the dish on the return flight was pretty bland, although it did come with some Italian brand Freddi chocolate cake. And they gave full cans of Koka Kola!

-Amentities: Economy class has a surprisingly good amount of legroom, but no footrests. Our flight to Morocco did not have personal TVs, and the TVs throughout the cabin were never turned on once! The return flight did include personal seat televisions showing the film Casablanca.

As for Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca? Small, unpretentious and empty, with useless ATMs and inflated duty-free shop prices. Does have connecting train to Casablanca.

  • Trains:
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Marrakesh train station.
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Marrakesh train station.
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Casa Port train station.
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Rabat train station
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Inside Marrakesh train station.
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Train from Casa Voyagers to Med V Airport.
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Casablanca train station.

My mother and I made ample use of Morocco’s trains: traveling to/from the airport to Casablanca; to Rabat; to Marrakesh. Morocco’s rail line, ONCF, or Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc, is very efficient and always on time. Schedules are posted online but you can only buy tickets at the station (cash ONLY, even at the guichets!)

Casablanca has two stations: Casa Voyagers, with a line to Marrakech, and Casa Port. Casa Port is tiny and surrounded by construction at the moment; Casa Voyagers is slightly larger and unassuming. Rabat’s Ville station is a tall, fancy, glossy complex centrally located with several levels inside and shops (oh, and a bathroom!) Marrakesh’s station was the best, hands down: this big, imposing building was celebrating it’s 50th anniversary. Inside there are shops and restaurants, including McDonalds and KFC, and placards detailing the railway’s history. Outside there were these neat charging stations so you could charge your phone! There also appeared to be wi-fi, but my phone wouldn’t connect.

Tickets are cheap (180 dirhams, or $22 round-trip, from Casa to Marrakesh!) and are checked twice, once when exiting onto the platform (a process I found ridiculous as people are so uncivilized) and once again on  the train. The trains are apparently air conditioned in the summer but not in the winter, so if  the sun happens to be shining directly on you and your window screen isn’t working you will fry. There is a trolley-cart guy on longer rides who sells drinks and snacks. Seats in second class are grouped into 4 facing each other with the tiniest of tables for the two window seats.

I would highly recommend splurging for 1st class seats if you are riding on the train for more than an hour/with baggage, because you are assigned a seat in 1st class but not in second. People take forever to get off the train and, likewise, people try to jump on it as soon as it pulls into the station, which means that all hell breaks lose: the fact that you have to lift your suitcase up quite high to get onto the train does not make matters any better. On the ride to Marrakesh my mother and I first had to sit far apart from each other because we couldn’t find seats, and good luck trying to get people to move out of the way for you and your suitcase.

  • Taxis:
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Crazy Marrakesh driving.
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Signs in Marrakesh
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Tzi -n-Tichnka pass, Atlas Mountains

The worst part of visiting Morocco is without a doubt taking taxis. There are two types of taxis: petit taxis (aka normal taxis) and then grand taxis, which are essentially taxis that pile as many people as can fit inside them. If you accidentally take a grand taxi by yourself they charge you much more. The petit taxis vary in color by city: in Casablanca they are red; in Rabat they are blue; in Marrakesh they are brown.

The taxi drivers are a tourist’s nightmare: they will not put the meter on (ad-daT) even if you ask (when I asked they just laughed and told me a price). I got into several fights with them during our vacation, and even my mother opened her mouth in Marrakesh when our taxi driver, upon dropping us off at the train station with our baggage, told us it would be 100 dirham per person–not 100 dirham total, as he had originally told me. My mother was about to walk away without paying until he acquiesced to the original fare. Seriously, bring your tough skin with you if you want to take taxis in Morocco; for someone who doesn’t like to argue like myself, it was a headache and the worst part of the trip.

  • Cars:
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‘Qaf’=Stop. Sign in Rabat.

I’ll take the opportunity here to describe Morocco’s road infrastructure. Unlike Egypt, Morocco actually has traffic lights, traffic signs and lines on the roads, including pedestrian crossing stripes. Street signs are difficult to spot but exist. However, the effectiveness of all of this is debatable: traffic, especially in the early morning, leads to embouteillages in Casablanca, despite the stop lights and the omnipresent round-abouts. Pedestrians ignore the crosswalks and will walk directly into traffic at all sorts of angles, which I would find absolutely infuriating as a driver. Furthermore, you can speed 100 miles an hour (or slow down to an absolute crawl) at 11pm at night and no one is going to pull you over.

I was impressed by the road conditions throughout the country; even in Marrakesh they were all paved, unlike Cairo. The famous Tzi-n-tichnka pass, however, IS terrifying: this road through the Atlas mountains twists and turns so much that it was impossible to sleep during our trip from Marrakesh to Ait Benhaddou; i had to shut my eyes at some points. If you can’t stand heights, make sure your day trip doesn’t include a trip through those mountains!

Moroccan’s drive all types of cars, from French marks like Citroen and Renault to funky Spanish brands I’ve never heard of to Volkswagons, Fords and even luxury cars: in Casablanca I spotted Mercedes, BMWs, even Lamborghinis and Ferraris and, on the Ain Diab drag, a white limo.

  • Buses:

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We didn’t take the public buses in Morocco, although from what I could see they looked much newer and cleaner than public buses in Egypt. One thing that was the same: they looked extremely crowded. Bus stations, often with seating and shading from the sun, are clearly marked.

On another note: gas stations I noted included Afriquia, Libya Oil and Shell.

  • Trams:

Unfortunately I did not get to ride the tram in either Casablanca or Rabat. Subway systems do not exist in Morocco, and the trams are relatively new modes of transport. The tracks are not extensive and center on the newer, commercial areas of the two cities. Unlike in Europe, the trams have their own lanes; in fact during the day only the tram appears to ply the Boulevard Hassan II in Casablanca (at least according to one evil taxi driver that dropped us off ages from the boulevard!)

S-L-M

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